Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Sandy Knockin' On My Window: Originally written for Majalah Nova Indonesia

Time flies prompting memories to meld together, erasing milestones and adding decorations. Before arriving at Sarah Lawrence, I believed that my college experience would be pinpointed by academic achievements, shows, and fun activities. Nevertheless, I have learned that it has been easiest to remember my time in the U.S. based on large disasters, ranging from Hurricane Irene to Hurricane Sandy. A few months ago I asked if pain sells, well at the very least it has allowed for some reflection and reporting.

In the middle of October, less than a week after Fall Study Days, a long weekend at SLC dedicated to "studying", the Northeast was hit by Hurricane Sandy. After Hurricane Irene on moving day, I felt less rattled by the prospect of endless wind and rain, as well as loss of heat and hot water. Also, when it comes to the weather forecast, one can never be completely sure. For example, a few weeks ago the school brazed for another snowstorm but ended up receiving none. Due to a lack of certainty, I went with a theatre class to The Public Theatre in The City to watch The Giant, starring Kate Baldwin, P. J. Griffith and Brian D'Arcy James in the morning of the storm. Afterwards, we raced to Grand Central to take one of the last trains back to campus.

A Scanned Copy of the Article
Edition: November 5-11, 2012

Nevertheless, soon the excitement dissolved and I was left reading a book for class with a flashlight since the power seized. Following the event, I was approached by Majalah Nova, an Indonesian magazine, to write an article about Sandy. At the time, I was writing regularly for Speak!, a sister magazine of Jakarta Post. Yet, I did not have an abundance of publications and experience as I do now. So, I began writing out of wilderness and instinct. Though it felt daunting at first, I slowly eased into this conversation with the page. Back then, I lacked the confidence to directly write in Bahasa Indonesia, the language of choice for Majalah Nova, so I opted to write an original draft in English, before having someone at the magazine translate it for publication.

Since, only the Bahasa Indonesia version has seen the light of day. I decided to post the English version here. To be honest, comparing articles in two languages is an affinity I can't shake off.

Sandy Knockin’ On My Window

            Sandy knocks on my window all night long. Unlike house intruders who could be repelled by a ghoulish Halloween mask or a lost squirrel who could be pushed off by a broom, Sandy is a “historical” force of nature that definitely does not take no for an answer. Maybe I should back up for a second. Like most of my friends at Sarah Lawrence College, a liberal arts, 4-year college located 30 minutes away from the heart of New York City, I first heard of Sandy’s planned appearance on Thursday, October 25. A college sophomore and survivor of 2011’s Hurricane Irene, I didn’t think twice about the storm. A few branches will fall and power may go out, but nothing major is going to happen. After all, I have water, food, flashlights, and batteries in my dorm room.
            Daughter of an ex-Pramuka mother and grandchild of a former army pharmacist, I have been trained to have an emergency backpack and a survivalist mentality ready to go. Fortunately, my underestimation of Sandy did not put me in danger. On Sunday night, I arrived back on campus just in time before lock-down. Earlier in the day, I had gone to New York City to watch a musical with a few friends. Most days, I am not the daredevil college student that I was days leading up to Sandy.
            The whole campus was under lockdown from Sunday evening to Tuesday morning, although the torment began on Monday afternoon when our dorm lost electricity and WiFi. Unable to go out, my roommate and I were stuck in our small room. I spent the afternoon and evening wasting away in my bed, attempting to do work, but soon I failed and fell asleep. Throughout Monday night, Sandy vigorously pursued the windows of the dorm, a nine-bedroom house on the outskirt of campus.
            Knock, knock, knock... it persisted to knock and hit the windows, much like Irene did last year. Hurricane Irene occurred during college orientation in August 2011. A new college student, both clueless to campus and New York weather, I did not know what to expect from the hurricane. Also it didn’t help that the window was located above my bed. During both hurricanes, the windows continued to be assaulted by tree branches and rain. Shadows illuminated by lightning, formed on the floor, while the blinds consistently flapped back and forth. Both times, I felt most worried about the windows breaking.
            Finally, I woke up to find daylight and calmness. Half of the house was still asleep. Quietly, I crept down to see food on the kitchen table. Apparently campus officials had sent food earlier in the morning. Though hungry and thirsty I could not get myself to eat. The weather was freezing and I was still in survival mode. Due to lack of electricity and wifi, I had to limit my communication to the outside world and deny questions from family and friends from home. My folks knew everything that had happened and constantly updated me with online articles from BBC and CNN. As always, international media stations created big commotions regarding natural disasters, causing panic and tension amongst overseas viewers. Covering the worst of the tragedy, viewers’ perception skewed towards the worst possibilities.

            Back in my dorm, I decided to take a warm shower to combat the lack of heat. Suddenly, the weather became extremely colder. Unlike Sandy, Irene occurred in late-summer. Instead of cold, it was humid and sticky. I did not need heat to help me get through, but now I do. Fortunately, by mid-Tuesday the lockdown was lifted and food was served in the main cafeteria. Without hesitation I walked down the hill to have a hot meal. Even though, my dorm by Wednesday evening, my dorm regained power, hot water and WiFi on Halloween day, many parts of the campus continues to be without electricity.
            My parents went through a surprising mood wave, which I suspect relied on my attitude towards Sandy. In the beginning, when I was nonchalant, they battered me with information, warnings and prohibitions. However, once I got into survival mode, they backed down and took on the supportive role. Furthermore, my take on Sandy certainly was influenced by my experiences. In Indonesia, I had evacuated twice from my home due to the 1998 riots and 2006 flood. Also, I had experienced several earthquakes and other floods. My past combined with the things that my parents had taught me and the books that I had read proved helpful in determining my mentality through both hurricane Irene and Sandy.
            In comparison to the 2011 hurricane, Sandy was more vicious in nature as it caused more damage and created flooding in more parts of the East Coast. Also, the college, was hit worst by the newer hurricane as we lost power, WiFi and hot water for three days. Surviving two hurricanes before the end of my third semester in college has certainly shaped my mentality and made me more independent. As always, being calm yet aware is the required when natural disaster is within the equation. 

*Photos were taken from Majalah Nova and supplied by the author

Saturday, March 22, 2014

At My Fingertips: Leaked 3

As a born and bred Jakartan, I strive to inject some elements of my hometown to every story I write. For the past few years, I have made a conscious decision to write stories that involve issues surrounding Indonesian youth and society. Additionally, I try to include some dialogue in Bahasa Indonesia to represent my roots and the feeling of being a bilingual Indonesian. At My Fingertips, which I have showcased on this blog twice before, seems to display the most use of Indonesian words and dialogue. Although, I haven't been working on the project as intensively as I planned, I wanted to continue sharing it with you. Enjoy!

At My Fingertips 2

         Jakarta changes rapidly, but not rapid enough. As a born and bred Jakartan, I plant seeds of memories at the cinema, basketball courts and even hospitals. I do so unconsciously, especially for the first few years of my life. But as I grew older and my memory weakens, I began to plant intentionally much like a farmer would after a long dry period. Perhaps, that’s one reason why people are so against old buildings being torn down or drastically renovated. Instead of holding on to the future, they latch on to the past.
         Today is no different. As the car pulls up at the hospital lobby, I could fear a rush of memories crashing onto me. This, of course, happens a lot when one has failed to show up for years. I could feel my left arm hurt, prompting me to place my right hand underneath it for support. I could feel eyes watching me from the balcony that overlooks the lobby, only to see strangers looking aimlessly at the door. I could smell traces of ethanol in the air and slowly going to sleep, before waking up to the elevator bell.
         As I step out of the box and onto the fourth floor, I could feel my stomach quivering, reminding me that there is a coward within me, ready to retrieve into the bushes or, more appropriately, the café at the back of the hospital. Yes, I sort of know the hospital like the back of my hand. And yes, it is a landmine of primed memories.
         My phone is awfully silent, as it should be in situations like these. But, I thought at sixteen, if I were to ever, knock on wood, visit a dying friend, I would be in the company of someone comforting, like a boyfriend or, dare I say, a husband. And yet, at this moment I am alone, waiting for my best friend to finally come to his senses, realize that he misses me and has unlawfully neglected me, and calls me to say that he is boarding the next flight to Jakarta. 
         Before I could even notice the evil in me, I realize the new wallpaper, which reminds me that things change, even large structures such as this hospital, and, unfortunately, even friendships that may appear to be set in stone. I want to leave as fast as possible before my subconscious could plant any unwanted seeds in this room. When suddenly I could hear someone calling me.

         “Ari?” the voice sounds particularly familiar and yet different, like these walls that I’ve just pondered over, this voice has been heard a thousand times but has decayed and therefore, been healed with time itself. Quick, manipulate the Rubik cube to see whose face shows up.
         “Ben? Oh my gosh it’s you!” I say, almost doing an entire one-eighty with my mood. He opened his arms and we sort of embrace in a not so awkward manner. We really haven’t hugged like this in years; ever since the night we finished our very first and last performance.
         “Wow! Kenapa gua masih kaget kalau lu masih suka ngomong pake bahasa inggris? (Why am I surprised that you still like speaking in English?)” He smiles, just like the one I used to see in dreams.
         “Biasa aja lagi, mungkin karena udah tinggal cukup lama disana (Come on, it’s normal. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived there for quite some time),”
         “Gila, zaman sekarang, dua-tiga tahun itu lama ya, Ar (That’s so crazy! Nowadays, two-to-three years sounds so long,”
         “Ben, with college, I’ve lived in New York for six years,” I try not to bring up that one year I failed to remain in Indonesia for forever, “Umm… si Dika di kamar berapa ya? (What’s Dika’s room number?)” I ask, struggling to let go of this conversation and yet, hoping that it would end soon.
         “Kamar 409, lurus trus di bagian kanan (Room 409, go straight and it will be on your right),” he smiles uneasily as I turn, refusing to plant a seed in this corridor. 

Links to previous posts on At My Fingertips:
Introduction http://www.kisahjika.com/2014/01/at-my-fingertips-leaked.html
At My Fingertips 2 http://www.kisahjika.com/2014/01/at-my-fingertips-leaked-2.html

*All photos were supplied by the author

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

On Patient-Provider Relationship

Sarah Lawrence is known for its writing intensive education. In addition to weekly responses and conference papers, students also write papers and conduct projects. Unlike many schools in the U.S., SLC offers year-long classes. Throughout my sophomore year, I took four year-long classes. Health Policy/Activism was one of them. The relationship between healthcare providers and patients quickly became one of my primary focus in the class.

This is an essay that I wrote on the matter:

May 4, 2013
Essay 3: Doctor-Patient Relationship

The relationship between patients and physicians has experienced a crucial shift in the past few years. Through the discovery and implementation of new models, patients are gaining a much more active role in this relationship. However, the balance within the collaborative patient-doctor relationship should be maintained. Moreover, physicians should broaden their roles by offering a much more accessible and reliable source of medical information to patients.
A central interaction within the modern health care system, doctor-patient relationship is one essential step that usually entails some basic set of examinations and a conversation. The objective is to diagnose and treat; however, those goals may not always be achieved. In addition to depending on the type of illness or disease, the basic concept of a medical consultation is clouded with various social elements such as the hierarchical relationship between the patient and health provider; arguments or discussions when determining the most suitable treatment; ethical considerations such as administering the informed consent; as well as a level of professionalism. Furthermore, the understanding that each party has for each other’s culture, expertise and stake in the relationship influence the interaction.

Taken in Indonesia
Currently, numerous sectors: government, health care professionals, administration, patients, as well as activists have been in pursuit of the ideal doctor-patient relationship. What makes the ideal doctor-patient relationship? Is the conventional model too outdated for today’s society? And yet, is the collaborative model the best alternative?
The doctor-patient relationship could be classified into several models based on the social hierarchy within the relationship and the type of disease/illness/predicament at hand. The relationship between health professionals and patients could be separated based on the power dynamics: doctors as superior to patients, an equal stance within the relationship, as well as patients as superior to doctors, which rarely occurs (Badcott, 2005, 174).. On the other hand, the type of condition’s influence on the model may include acute and chronic conditions. For instance, chronic diseases require a long-term relationship within health care providers and patients, prompting the need to have a better relationship. In this essay, I will focus on the categories in doctor-patient relationship based on power dynamics.
In the past, most doctor-patient relationships placed the doctor superior to the patient. Doctors are viewed as credible based on their medical degrees, the perception of their higher level of intelligence and as experts. Many incidences have suggested that doctors have the autonomy and knowledge to determine the patient’s diagnosis and consequent treatment. The misplacement of authority in doctors has created a dynamic where patients are passive from chiming into the discussion and choosing their assigned treatment (Salmon and Hall, 2003, 1970). Patients are also often perceived as victims instead of active players in improving their own health. Surprisingly some patients prefer this model as it the responsibility is placed on the health care providers. Gathering information and finding a cure is not the patient’s obligation. This model undermines the information and added value that patients bring to the table.
Badcott proposed several models ranging from the expert patient who owns special knowledge and skills, autonomous patient who has the liberty to decide, emancipated patient who has freedom from legal or social constraint, and the empowered patient who is free to act (Badcott, 2005, 177). These modes are implicitly shown in the EPP.
            Various programs have involved a shift towards a more collaborative model of doctor-patient relationship. The Expert Patient Program (EPP), for instance, is a self-management program designed to support patients by elevating their confidence, improving their quality of life, and supporting them in managing their conditions in a more effective manner. Implemented in England, the program is particularly designed for those suffering from chronic illness and conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, as well as physical disabilities.
            The model was founded on Bandura’s social cognitive theory of behavior, which stipulates, “Key predictors of successful behaviour changes are confidence (self efficacy) in the ability to carry out an action and expectation that a particular goal will be achieved (outcome expectancy). Self efficacy is seen as an early step in causal pathways of behaviour change in self management programmes; increasing self efficacy (confidence) is a prerequisite for behaviour change which, through improved self management may influence health and healthcare use” (Griffiths, et al., 2007, 1254). Later on the U.K. health department invested in a task force, which offered programs for patients with chronic diseases that were led by lay experts.
The EPP creates patients who are actively working together with the health care professionals, as well as independently gaining personal expertise regarding their own condition. Research has suggested that an increase in patient involvement during consultation might result in greater patient satisfaction, which perhaps could lead to better health. The basic assumption when adopting the EPP is that better health might be achieved through active participation determining their treatment. The U.K. NHS expects that these events would therefore culminate into the reduction of healthcare use and even mortality. Studies have suggested an increase in patients’ self-efficacy, which resulted in improved psychological health. Patient involvement modestly increases patients’ self-efficacy, increases psychological health and might be useful for ethnic minorities (Griffiths et al, 2007, 1255).
In addition to encouragement of the patient’s confidence, a collaborative model appears to be more effective as it actively includes the patient, who lives and therefore understands the condition from a different light. Although diseases, illnesses and conditions have general patterns, they are often presented differently in various people. A patient’s lifestyle, diet, and profession may contribute to the individual experience of a condition.
According to Salmon and Hall, having a better understanding of the individual and illness enables us to determine the shape and content of medical practice. Salmon and Hall mentioned the usage of the Bio Psycho Social (BPS) model, which allows medical professionals to expand their power into other areas of a patient’s life without blaming said patient for their lifestyle choices. With the BPS approach, patients take on the role of experts in each of their illness and disease (Salmon and Hall, 2003, 1972).

The Hospital
The BPS has garnered some backlash as it implies the extension of medical power. Where does the health care professional’s influence begin and end? Even though this model seems to encourage a more equal relationship between patient and health care provider, it also galvanizes the doctors’ control on the patients’ lives. For example, when using this model doctors have the right to determine the patient’s diet, exercise routine, living environment, as well as day-to-day activities. This model includes both collaboration between doctors and patient while implementing a restrictive measures to improve health. 
Another argument for an equal power distribution between patient and health provider is the concept that patient’s own validation will boost his/her recovery. To attain these goals, Badcott suggested that patients are entitled to learn more about their illness, especially through the increase in health information available on-line. This situation will result in the possibility for anyone who chooses and is capable in digest the information to become better informed and to participate in decisions relating to his/her illness (Badcott, 2005, 174).
Alongside the programs involving lay led experts is the informed patient model, that is said to be reflexive, informed, requires highly specified information, as well as having highly developed skills and tactics for acquiring information. This discourse implies that individuals are inclined to receive more responsibility for their own health (Adams and DeBont, 2007, 274). Placing the patients as consumers, this model benefits from the heightened availability of and access to medical information on the Internet. However, in order to fully use this information and avoid incorrect information, and dangerous consequences, a patient needs the right skills, such as being able to verify the information based on its quality and sources. This discourse led to a shift in the role of health professionals to include providing support, advise, and help patients in broadening the latter’s medical knowledge via reliable sources. In contrast, medical professionals aren’t as obligated to provide superfluous amounts of information to the patient as they can recommend a list of reliable medical websites.
The collaborative doctor-patient relationship model is glorified as the solution to many health care problems. However, changes need to be made in order to improve the circumstances in which information is presented. General policing is required to ensure that information available online are credible, safe and trustworthy. Policing should be designed to be a simple and effortless task, such as the ability to verify information with one mouse click (Adams and DeBont, 2007, 279).
Yet, how beneficial is a collaborative doctor-patient relationship? Three of four studies, listed by Griffiths et al., showed no change in generic measures of self rated health and use of health care. Perhaps these results were due to the possibility that lay led programs both increased and reduced consultation; even though unscheduled care may decrease, scheduled care may have experienced some increase; and it is possible that the program may not be as effective in countries with universal health coverage and primary care, such as UK (Griffiths, et al., 2007, 1255).
With the technological advances available various patient groups continue to rely on their physicians to provide information and advise them on a certain treatment, indicating that some patients are still unwilling to take on the responsibility that accommodates the informed patient program. This phenomenon maintains that much of the responsibility and power are within the doctors’ hands.
Even though paternalism by doctors and other health providers will continue to limit patients’ freedom the power to diagnose; choose the remedy; and decide a treatment plan should lie in both patient and medical providers, as health professionals are experts in the general patterns of a condition, however the patient is an expert in his/her own condition (Badcott, 2005, 177). Having additional and more specific knowledge will help in the diagnosis as well as treatment. Studies have clearly shown the EPP’s and Informed Patient Program’s positive influences on the patient. With patients playing a much more active role in determining treatment, a partnership between the patient and health care professional is still needed to ensure that a balanced, collaborative relationship in health care is created. This should not stop the availability and accessibility of medical information to patients who choose to broaden their knowledge.  The role of the physician will extend to offering and policing online information, as well as train patients to use and evaluate the information in a safe and useful manner.

*The author owns rights to the photos above

Monday, March 17, 2014

On HIV/AIDS in Indonesia: A weekly journal response

During the my second semester at Sarah Lawrence, I took a class on Children's Health in a Multicultural Context. As the only Asian and freshman, I felt intimidated and fearful of sounding dumb. Sometimes, though, we have to jump into the deep end of the pool to fully understand ourselves and the material at hand. Throughout the course, I submitted required weekly reaction papers, many of which revolved around Indonesia. Here is one of them...

April 8, 2012

9th Reaction Journal

In 2007, Indonesia ranked 99th in the world by prevalence rate. One of the underlying factors of this event is that only 5 to 10% of HIV/AIDS sufferers are actually diagnosed and treated, due to low understanding and the stigma attached to the disease. Areas with the highest concentration of HIV/AIDS patients are Papua, Jakarta, East Java, West Java, Bali, and Riau. Indonesia stretches more than 3,000 miles along the Equator. Various factors, such as cultural practices and levels of urbanization, impact the spread of HIV. One of the driving forces of the escalation of HIV in Papua is the culture of paid and “transactional” sex among young men and women aged 15 to 24. However, the primary mode of transmission, accounting for 59% of HIV infections, is drug injection use. Furthermore, one way to finance drug habits are through prostitution. Only 54.7% of sex workers and 56.5% of men who have sex with men use condoms consistently. Consequently many IDUs are either drug users, sex workers or clients of sex workers. 

National Allarm 
Even with the increase of HIV/AIDS IDUs in the recent years, HIV is still stigmatized and discriminated against. Many people living with HIV hide their status for fear of losing their jobs, social status, and the support of their families and communities. Moreover, this behavior decreases the likelihood that those living with HIV will seek or receive proper treatment and increasing the chances of HIV spreading undetected. 
Throughout the years, the local government have innovated various techniques to decelerate the spread of this disease. Currently, the Indonesian government is developing the microchip tagging technology to keep track of the infected individuals known to be sexually active. In schools, various educational endeavors have been made. However, from my personal experience, these attempts to raise awareness to the youth is far from effective. I have been receiving sex education since junior high school. For fourteen years, I attended a Catholic National Plus school outside of Jakarta. To a great extent, the sex education in school promoted celibacy. Unfortunately, as a price students did not learn about prevention and protection from pregnancy, STDs and HIV/AIDS. Many of the schools in Indonesia only advocate celibacy and leave out the issue of prevention and protection. In order to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS I believe that it is important to educate the consequences of unprotected sex and ways to have protected sex. Condoms, birth-control pills, medical examinations, etc. should be available to the public. 

The Warning Signs
Indonesia still has a long way until it can combat HIV/AIDS effectively. Bridges between various ethnicity, religion and educational background need to be built in order to develop ways to prevent the spread of the disease. Ultimately, the whole of Indonesia needs to work together to prevent more infection of HIV/AIDS. 

*The photos were supplied by the author

Sunday, March 16, 2014

SQ: Leaked 2

This is another rendition of SQ, a novel that I have been working on sporadically for the past few months. The story revolves around a woman in her late-twenties, who forces herself to navigate a rather-traditional society. Unlike most of her peers, she has to deal with both feminine and masculine ideals, which slowly becomes a daunting task.

SQ 2

            “Don’t you ever rope a guy into a shopping spree,” Jojo looked at me, accentuated his words, and force-fed it down my throat.

The guys and I are sitting around at one of the many weddings that we’ve seemingly gotten invited to for weeks on end. How am I supposed to date when I’m always hopping from one city to another and alternating between my friends’ weddings and work?
            “Just promise me, that you will not ask a guy to go shopping with you!” he finished off his beer and motions to Andy to get some more, “Shas been whining for months about how I am so “inattentive”, the girl wanted me to bring her to the mall to buy some things for our new place and I complied, what’s wrong with that? Tell me, how is that inattentive?”
            “Maybe you could have stayed alert the entire time and not wander off to the arcade,” Andy handed Jojo a new bottle, “Look, what he did was stupid as fuck, but you really ought to spare a poor guy from the misery of shopping.”

For the past few years, out of pity, the guys have been providing me with a list of dating tips. However, instead of a list of dos they tend to lean towards prohibition. What’s worst is that each green light leans towards a  fetishized idea of women, be it cooking, cleaning or getting wine stains off of his shirt. Don’t we have maids to do that? Or moms?
            And yet, I listened on and on, submitting myself to be brainwashed by a bunch of “bros”. Midway through the party, I usually find myself dazed, as I mediate between the guys and the girls. Thankfully there’s alcohol and my unnaturally high tolerance to substances. But, when they are finally done indoctrinating me, all I want to do is go shopping with a guy in tow.  

The ground beneath my feet is comforting, clutching an empty airsickness bag, I scan for my new shopping spree buddy. After half a century of trying, I finally attained a man who would voluntarily accompany me on a shopping spree in duty free land. One part of me believes that he is doing this out of pity. Another leans towards the idea that he decided to show his appreciation after realizing how much mileage I’ve earned in the past three years. While, the third part of me wants to ignore all the warning signs and enter a blissful, yet dubious world where he fell in love with me and offered to help me out as our first date. Yes, I am single and delusional.
            Maybe this is a huge mistake? I tend to make them, quite a lot, especially when it comes to men. Just when I decide to walk away and try to change to an earlier flight I see him emerge from the plane in his uniform and matching luggage. After years of desensitizing myself from falling into a perilous love affair with a member of the cabin crew, I could see myself failing right at this moment.
            “Miss Bunyamin, or is it Mrs.? My name is Jonathan, please call me Pete,” He asks, playfully, and right then and there, I sense a desire to smack myself in the bum for even considering him as a future lover.
            “Nice to meet you, Pete. But excuse me, Mrs.? Do you see a wedding ring?” I ask, “And, on that note, why are you doing this?”
            “Doing what?” he looks puzzled, a look that he seemingly often opts for.
            “Why did you volunteer to help me look for my friend’s gift?”
            “Well, I saw that you were struggling and I-“ he starts explaining himself, “Maybe I should refer you to the personal shopper at the airport.” I could hear him sigh.
            “There’s a personal shopper?” I reply, quite disappointingly. Why can’t I just behave and go with this beautiful plot? Goddamit, this clearly shows how incapable I am of flirting or making friends with people above the age of ten.
            “Nah! I’m just messing with you,” he smiles.
            “So, you’re pitying me or…”
            “I have a few hours to kill before my next flight to Bali and I thought I could help out, instead of lounging around, and anyways, my boss said that I could use this gift card,” he hands me over a stack of vouchers prompting me to smile goofily. If there’s one thing I love more than work, it’s shopping for free.

What was once a foreign land has become my home. As a frequent flyer who lives in a rather remote country, I am always subjected to fly to a port city. With time, I slowly learned the shops and the pathways to enjoying those long layovers. I have chosen my favorite resting spot on various ends of the terminal and taken a liking to particular more so than others. We walk past one of them and I could hear my stomach growling.
            “Why are you crossing your fingers?” Pete continues to satre ahead, avoiding any passerby who might bump into us. A few days away from the New Years, the airport is always jam packed of commuters and tourists. Everyone needs to be somewhere on time or they are doomed to spend the next year in agony. As a woman who much prefers her solitude, I have endured the past few New Year Eve by cursing at the fireworks and avoiding the parties. I confess that I have been hiding underneath my blanket in some obscure hotel room, whilst people get drunk, kiss each other and subsequently pass on STDs to one another. It truly is a vicious cycle, which reminds me to pick up some oral dams along the way.
            “Umm… where’s the drugstore, again?”
            “You mean the pharmacy?” he’s still looking ahead. What is wrong with this guy? Is he so afraid of people? I nod, too turned off to give my all. Pete points towards a shop, framed by blue-green lights. I walk over quickly, tightly holding on to my luggage.
            “Maybe you should wait here,” I say, before I enter the shop, realizing how socially inacceptable it is to purchase such an item in Asia. He nods and stops dead on his tracks. From afar, Pete resembles a bodyguard, which turns me off even more.

Eat your heart out
Scanning the aisles, I look for the dam, a device of sorts made of latex that claims to protect its user doing oral-vaginal or oral-anal sex. Personally, I have yet to assess the object myself, but since the last herpes outbreak in Leslie’s wedding, it might be a good idea to buy some just in case someone gets a bit too adventurous. Browsing through the shelves under ultra bright neon lights can be blinding, especially when you are trying to be discrete about it. Giving up, I approach one of the staff to ask whether they have the product in store. Not surprisingly, she turns to me and gives off a weird, disgusted look. Then she rants in Mandarin, which I no too little of.
            “Duìbùqǐ, xièxiè nǐ,” I struggle to make amends and move on. But she continues to spit out these words that are as foreign as sex seems to me.
            “Āyí, duìbùqǐ, wǒ de péngyǒu shì fēngle. Wǒ huì bāng tā. Xièxiè nín de shíjiān,” suddenly, Mr. Steward approaches and starts bowing up and down at the shopkeeper, to which she smiles awkwardly and leaves.
            “What did you say to her?”
            “Don’t mention it,” he says, quite confidently, and asks, “What was it that you were looking for?”
            “Forget about it,” I blush uncontrollably. First of all, we are in Asia and it is uncommon for shops around this area to stock oral dams. Second, I am fully committed to avoid making this more awkward than it already is.
            “Come on, what were you looking for? There’s no tax, you know,” he pushes forward. I really don’t feel comfortable, but I can’t help but remember my friends’ overdrawn lips to hide their brand new cold sores.
            “Okay, this is going to be embarrassing, but hey, we won’t see each other again, after this right?” I try to laugh it off and be humorous, which never pans out when I’m off the stage and sober, “I’m looking for oral dams.” Although I am looking at the ground, I could see his eyes widening. Oh fuck! Why didn’t I just get that girl, Deandra, to help me out.
            “Oral dams? Are you referring to the ones used by the dentist?” he seems genuine enough.
            “Yes, yes that one. My friend is a dentist, you see, and she-“ I try real hard to pull it off, but fail miserably as he picks out a box covered with steamy photos.
            “This one?” he holds it high enough for everyone in the store to see. Crap! “Are you sure your friend is using this to clean people’s teeth?”
            “Just give it to me,” I try to grab it from his hands only to realize that I could just pull one off from the shelf.

Having lost my face at one of my favorite places on earth, I grab the box and march towards the registry. Thankfully, the counter is clear of all customers. I place the box and the lady looks at me strangely.
            “Boarding pass, please” she says. Flustered, I go through my oversized handbag in search of the ticket. Soon, people start emerging behind me. Queues are always intimidating, especially when you’re in a country known for its law-abiding citizens. 
            “Here it is!” I grin as I finally locate the pass and hand it off to the lady. Maybe, I’m imagining this. Maybe, she hasn’t raised one of her eyebrows. Maybe, I should have eaten a bit more on the flight. 
            “That will be sixteen dollars and fifty cents,” the lady announces and places the box in a see through bag.
            “Wow! That’s expensive,” suddenly Pete comments and leans against the counter.
            “Eh, Jonathan, how are you?” she embraces him over the counter, “Is this girl your new girlfriend?” Before he could answer, she carries on, “Judging by her purchase, y’all are preparing for a steamy date, aren’t you?” she smiles covertly, mimicking perverted old ladies in films.
            “You are so funny, auntie, she was actually a passenger on my last assignment,” he explains, which of course, prompts the people behind us to groan and the lady to smile happily in light of the beginning of a juicy story.
            “He didn’t mean it that way, umm… we were just going the same direction and I asked him where the drugstore was-“
            “Ah girl, you don’t have to be so ashamed. Jonathan here is a respected bachelor, if I were still in my twenties I would definitely eye him, as well” she grins.
            “Hey! I have a flight to catch!” a man grumbles behind me.
            “Ah yes, yes, excuse me,” with that she continues working. Pete smiles at me timidly and we try to walk away from the angry mass. Just as we exit the store, she screams, “Kids, have safe sex!”


*The rights to the photos are owned by the author